Facebook tells me that it has been just over one year since our first visitor came to Solomon Islands. In that time, we’ve played host to Jodes, Pip, Hoehne, Chris, Lorenzo, Johnno, Jules, Cecilia, and Conroy (sort of). With so much experience at hosting, I thought I would put together my perfect Tourist’s Guide to Honiara. Solomon Islands Visitors Bureau, you are welcome.
Day 1: Greet visitor at the airport with a cold coconut. Take them home, and allow them to sit on the couch under the fan for a few hours while their body futilely attempts to adjust to the tropical heat. For dinner, treat them to baked beans and eggs because that’s all you have in your fridge.
Day 2: Drag visitor out of bed early for a hike to Mataniko Falls. They are bound to enjoy the scenic hike up steep hills in the hot sun with over-enthusiastic dogs whacking into them periodically. Or perhaps they will prefer the slide down the muddy slope on their butt, amidst beautifully green and mosquito-ridden rainforest. They will love the cool down swim in the cascades, before you lead them down through a heavily flowing waterfall on slippery boulders to the river below. The most enjoyable part of the hike will start, though, when you provide them with a cheap, partially-inflated tube and allow them to slowly drift down Mataniko River, absorbing the tranquillity of the gorge while ramming into fallen trees and being dragged over sharp, barely-submersed rocks.
In the afternoon, for a bit of culture, take them to a local Solomon Islander family gathering. Enjoy the fabulous music, songs, dancing and stacka kakai (lots of food!). Just beware of the drunk uncle who likes to pick a fight and then punches his hand through your car window.
Day 3: To soothe the aches, pains, and slowly-infected scratches of yesterday’s fun, head out to Visale beach for a relaxing swim. On the way, stop at KFC (Kakabona Fried Chicken) to pick up some delicious local fish fried in yesterday’s grease. Mmmm.
Day 4: An introduction to Solomon Islands’ art and culture. Start off by checking out the kastom money collection at the Central Bank, then push on to the country’s National Museum. After that hour, duck across the road to the Art Gallery and check out the modern expression of culture. Grab some weaving, paintings or carvings as a memento. You won’t regret it…..unless quarantine stops you.
Day 5: Showcase WWII history. First stop can be a trip to the US Memorial, then on to the Japanese Memorial. From there, you can continue to Mt Austin to see their collection of war artefacts (and do another hike to another waterfall so that the kastom fee seems more reasonable), or go further East to Alligator Creek or even Red Beach.
Day 6: Head to the Central Markets for an exploration in all things food. Purchase anything you don’t recognise, and then spend the afternoon getting creative in the kitchen in an attempt to make it taste good. (Tip: Also try experimenting with coconut meat. According to Johnno, the potential is endless). Just to be safe, also grab a few crabs and some fish so that you know you will have something edible for dinner. Wash it down with cocktails made at a friend’s place.
Day 7: With 85% of the Solomon Islands population living in rural areas, no trip to the country is complete without a trip to a village. Arrange to visit one of the villages that are part of the Kokonut Pacific oil producers, or be taken out to the village of one of host’s friends, where you get to see motu or cassava pudding being made, and play with snotty and oh-so-adorable naturally blond pikanini.
In the evening, head to the end of the street and play a gig for your hosts. Or watch a gig if you lack certain musical talent.
Day 8: Take a tour of Parliament House in the morning. Because that doesn’t last long, hang out at the wharf and watch the overloaded ships come in, before enjoying a Kokoda lunch (fish cooked in bushlime) at El Shaddhai.
Tick off any remaining items off your bucket list in the afternoon, and then relax at the end of a busy week by downing some wine and pizza while watching the sun set at The Ofis.
Day 9: Head out of Honiara to Maravaghi “Eco Resort”. If you can arrange the boat trip across when there is a low pressure system around, all the better for that authentic Solomons experience. Be sure to pack your snorkel as the underwater life is spectacular and you will undoubtedly find nemo. Also pack some wine, 50+ sunscreen, mosquito repellent and rat traps….. just because. In the evening, after a long day of snorkelling and reading your book, devour Maravaghi’s pumpkin coconut soup and kingfish like there’s no tomorrow.
Day 10: After an early morning swim and attack of sea lice, head back to Honiara. A good tip is to pre-arrange for a pod of dolphins to be seen splashing around merrily in the water as part of your journey.
Upon your return, take a long hot shower, then a long snooze to recover from the previous night’s mosquito- and rat-driven non-sleep. In the afternoon, head to the Holy Cross Cathedral. Even if you’re not Catholic, this place beautifully blends Solomon Islands kastom and Catholic missionary symbolism.
Day 11: Hopefully, by this point, you are worn out. Or you may just be fatigued from malaria. Either way, on your journey to the airport, stop in at Kokonut Pacific. Spend all your last, useless Solomon Dollars on their range of coconut oil and soaps, because they support rural farmers, and because they’re amazing.
Then give a sweaty hug goodbye to your hosts and head back off to civilisation.
If you have enjoyed Solomon Islands so much that you’d like the ultimate souvenir, take a leaf from Johnno’s book and contract dengue just before departing. That way, whenever the virus re-emerges your thoughts will return to the Hapi Isles.
(*Please note: This piece is highly sarcastic and all readers should be aware that Solomon Islands is a beautiful place to visit. Truly).